One of the greatest challenges we face as a modern society is to make high-quality health care available to all who need it. Governments and health organizations all over the world are grappling with how to expand the breadth of coverage beyond its current limits while simultaneously reducing costs and inefficiencies. The obstacles are many, but recent advances in information and communication technologies have created new opportunities, such as those presented by telemedicine, for expanding and improving the delivery of healthcare.
Telemedicine is a method of delivering healthcare that utilizes advanced technology to improve the accessibility, efficiency and quality of care received. Though it has existed for some time in the form of phone consultations, new advances in technology, coupled with the needs of an increasingly strained medical community, have spurred an increase in demand for the development and availability of low-cost, high-tech medical consultation. The result is the ability to connect with a doctor from anywhere, at any time, using only your home computer and web cam.
Much of the concern today with America’s health system revolves around two primary factors: cost and quality. Many experts believe that online doctor visits will play a significant role in reversing the current trend by bringing down costs while lifting the quality of care received.
The author of The Wall Street Journal’s “The Doctor’s Office” column, Benjamin Brewer, M.D., believes that “20% of [his] routine office visits could be handled safely and less expensively over the Internet. There is nothing magical about the four office walls that make face-to-face visits superior. Demanding an in-person visit for every little thing is based on tradition and consensus opinion — not science” (Brewer, 2008).
Much of the medical community agrees with Brewer, especially where common cases and conditions are concerned, that online doctor visits are a safe, viable alternative to in-person consultations.
Though there is at least some resistance from skeptical traditionalists, experts generally agree that there is no inherent advantage to having in-person interaction versus interaction via the phone or Internet. In fact, the opposite is often true; studies and experimental trials have shown that online doctor visits actually offers some distinct advantages over in-person care that traditionalists may have failed to recognize, including: improved patient compliance, increased continuity of care, greater accessibility of care at the time of need, establishment and/or strengthening of referral patterns and opportunity for learning between referring physicians and other health professionals.
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